Social media has been ablaze lately with Christians tearing strips off Victoria Osteen for saying that when we worship God and when we do good, we’re not really doing anything for God, but we’re doing it for ourselves. My take is this: Osteen is actually right, and people are taking a certain glee in misunderstanding her because, well, she’s Victoria Osteen.
Here’s the (very short) clip in question:
A number of comical parodies have ensued, with the clip ending with anything from Bill Cosby telling her that this is the dumbest thing he has ever heard to Mrs Osteen being killed by Daleks. You’re all wrong. Victoria Osteen is right. Here’s the truth, as I see it: We can’t add anything to God’s glory, to his satisfaction, to his self-sufficiency, and we can’t provide God with anything that God needs. Here are another couple of truths: Our happiness is a good thing, and we actually flourish as human beings when we are worshipping God and doing good.
Mrs Osteen granted that “one way of looking at it” is that we worship God and do good for God. And of course in an obvious sense we do. Worshiping and serving God by their nature are acts of subservience and obedience. So yes, we do them for God. But Osteen was getting at something else. As she said, God delights in our flourishing (actually she said that our happiness makes God happy, but I think I’m hearing her rightly), and worshiping God and doing good is good for us. We’re not improving God when we do these things, we’re improving ourselves. These things literally are what is in our best interest.
John Piper has been saying this stuff for a long time, under the banner of “Christian hedonism.” God takes our happiness seriously and delights in it. Worshipping God is a matter of flourishing. This is what’s really good for us. I don’t think Osteen communicated as clearly as she might have, but I certainly think people have been too eager to jump on the dog pile just because of how unpopular the “prosperity Gospel” of Joel and Victoria Osteen is among Evangelicals (as I think it should be).
So, here I am saying that Victoria Osteen was right and her critics are just too eager to pounce.
- William Cavanaugh lecture series: Challenging the Myths of a Secular Age
- Victoria University’s advertising team are a bunch of lying liars!
- How to escape the Bible with your theology intact
- Tom Wright on reading the Bible literally
- Bill vs Bill: Is belief in God a delusion?